A Place at the Mic

I’ve been involved in radio for just about as long as I can remember, learning the ropes from my disc jockey father, Pervis Spann, Chicago’s legendary “the Blues Man.” So it may sound strange for me to say that it took me quite a long time to find my voice. But it’s true.

Despite enjoying success in my career as I followed in Dad’s footsteps, in time becoming owner of iconic WVON, I was hesitant to act on or pass on some of the lessons I had learned through my unique experience. I can’t help but wonder where I might be today if I’d shown up as I really was a little earlier, and not allowed myself to be intimidated by how others might react.

It is never too late, however, which is how I came to write my 2019 book, The Girlfriend’s Guide to Closing the Deal, to help young women navigate their way in corporate America. Having been the only Black person and the only woman at the table at too many industry events, I wanted to help make room for others like me.

For all the focus that’s put on gender these days, I don’t emphasize its importance, though. Rather, I say lead with your intelligence and with what you have to bring and let those around you deal with the gender aspect.

Just be who you are and let it flow, and leave others to handle it. I see such positive signs—Vice President Kamala Harris, former first lady Michelle Obama, and so many other women doing dynamic things. We’ve been invisible for so long, but it’s our time!

Staying true
So much of what I learned came from my father. Most of all I am grateful for how he encouraged me and my three siblings to dream big. And how he taught us to treat everyone well. He would always say we should not distinguish between the prisoner and the president. To this day, no one in our family ever meets a stranger. As a result, I have found that when you honor and respect others, you’ll be OK.

That’s not to say you don’t have to make tough calls in business, sometimes. During the pandemic, I had to furlough some people. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I had learned the hard way in the economic downturn of 2008 that hard times require hard choices.

You can come through, however, if people know you are genuine and if you innovate while staying true to your mission. We have done that by expanding our digital platform, and growing our Latino station.

We want to take what we have learned about serving the Black community as WVON (Voice of the Negro, before becoming Voice of the Nation), and help build something for that community, so they can in turn make room for others.

Melody Spann Cooper is the president and general manager of Chicago’s WVONAM, heading the only African-American owned radio station in the nation’s third-largest market.